RECAP: Jurassic Park III
Jurassic Park III (2001): Joe Johnston
Only eight years after one of the most successful movies of all time, most of its stars seemed as if they didn’t want to appear in the series again. Sam Neill is the lone star of Jurassic Park to reprise a large role in the third movie (although Laura Dern makes a cameo).
Perhaps everyone expected Jurassic Park III to be a stinker. While not on Spielberg’s level, the third Park movie strips away the fat for a thrill-a-minute dinosaur hunt with bigger, badder, and bigger and badder dinosaurs.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A boy crashes onto a dinosaur island and his parents trick a famous paleontologist into helping find him.
Guess who’s back, back again. Dr. Alan Grant’s back, tell a friend. That’s right, after a one-movie absence, everyone’s favorite dinosaur paleontologist returns to the Jurassic Park franchise. Sam Neill reprises his role as an annoyed, child-hating, technophobic scientist who, this time around, is completely disinterested in meeting living dinosaurs.
Grant’s trip to Jurassic Park hasn’t dulled his love of dinosaurs, at least in his mind. He still studies raptors, and he’s learned that they had large resonating chambers, with language abilities and intelligence levels that rivaled dolphins and whales, and perhaps were smarter than primates. If not for that pesky meteor, raptors might have ruled the Earth instead of humans.
That lunacy aside, Grant respects raptors, though he might not love them as much. Later, a kid will tell him that. “Back then they hadn’t tried to eat me yet,” he says. He might still be the best, but he’s the “last of my breed.”
You’d think Grant would love to get back onto Isla Nublar to study the living animals. Well, “no force on Earth or heaven can get me on that island,” he says.
And that’s true, because when Dr. Grant crashes on a dinosaur-infested island, he’s on Isla Sorna–Site B, from The Lost World–the land that time forgot.
Grant is tricked into accompanying Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leone) to the island to search for their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who went missing eight weeks ago after a tragic paragliding accident. Who can’t relate?
Grant reluctantly leads a team of dwindling numbers to find and then save Eric from dinosaurs he’s lived with for two months. Grant’s pretty pissed about the whole venture, considering the manner and magnitude in which he was duped. You gotta pity the guy.
Grant is perfectly adequate at surviving the island, but he’s mostly useless to the humans otherwise. He can’t fight the creatures; the best he can do is identify the problems before the others. That’s enough to help some people survive the creatures, but not all.
The chief villain in Jurassic Park III is the Spinosaurus aegypticus, known as Spinosaurus for short. But there’s nothing short about Spinosaurus. Alan finds the presence of this dinosaur strange, because it wasn’t on Ingen’s list of dinosaurs. Are dinosaurs being created ex nilhio? That question is never answered.
Spinosaurus is considered fiercer even than the T-Rex, and it sure seems that way. In its first appearance it tries to eat a plane fuselage to get at the tasty humans cowering inside it. The Spinosaurus is only scared off the humans by a T-Rex. The two fight over prey, letting said prey escape.
We don’t see Spinosaurus again until much later. The Kirby family reunites, but a fence stands between them. Alan and the kid, on one side, turn and see Spinosaurus standing there like Bowser, menacing big time. The humans find a hole in the fence, only to learn that the Spinosaurus can crash through it.
Without the fame of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Spinosaurus must make up for it in tenacity and flexibility. It has no qualms with eating metal. It swims like a shark. It menaces.
This movie isn’t long enough for tension-wracked build up to a Spinosaurus appearance. It does its thing with surprise.
When the villains of a movie are animals, that limits your ability to craft a solid action sequence. We’ve seen a T-Rex chase humans, and we’ve seen two T-Rexes chase humans, so what, are we gonna see three chase humans?
Mercifully, no. Spinosaurus is the big carnivore in this movie, but it’s not around much to antagonize. Instead we have raptors. These raptors are getting smarter by the year, it seems.
We first meet the raptors when they surprise the humans in an abandoned lab. One raptor chases humans into a large cage. The humans enter the cage and try to hold the door shut from the hungry raptor, but that fails because the locks don’t work and the raptor outmuscles them. The humans use the raptor’s strength against it, hauling open the door until it hits a wall and creates a protective triangle of door and two side of the cage wall.
The raptor is mad briefly, until it looks up and notices the gap above the door. If it climbs the door it can have a fresh snack. The humans react by pushing the door outward and creating the same triangular effect but with the raptor on the inside. That affords them time to exit the raptor-infested facility.
One of the chase raptors calls for help outside. We never saw them do this before, because Billy only discovered raptor speech ability days before landing on the island, and they couldn’t work that into the older movies.
The humans run into the forest and climb large trees. Udesky, the mercenary booking agent, is first attacked. He gets a claw in the back by a raptor toying with him. Amanda and Paul are in the tree. Amanda descends to try to help the guy she hired, but the raptors strike quickly. Udesky was a trap. Once the raptors realize their trap failed, one snaps Udesky’s neck, which seems cruel but is merciful.
Grant, meanwhile, has been on the ground this whole time. Pretty soon he’s surrounded by four raptors. Just when the raptors are about to get chomped, smoke grenades fly in and discombobulate the raptors. Eric arrives to save Grant.
That’s the end of the raptor chase. Like I said, there’s not much to do that hasn’t been done. Later, the movie introduces flying dinosaurs to menace humans–a new trick–but we’ve seen raptors do their thing more effectively in Jurassic Park. We’ve seen everything more effectively in Jurassic Park. Good thing this movie is only 90 minutes. At least the effects team had the sense to keep the dinosaur robots.
The Kirby family drags Dr. Grant to Isla Sorna. That should make them henchmen, or villains, because Grant DID NOT want to revisit those islands. Well, here is.
Paul and Amanda trick Dr. Grant through many, many lies. They convince him that they are adventure seekers and are wealthy beyond belief. They claim to have reserved seats on the first commercial moon flights.
The Kirbys asks Grant to be a guide for their flight over the islands, because no one else in the world (that they could get a hold of) has experience with living dinosaurs like Grant has. They also write him a check for several millions of dollars to fund his research.
The last guy who offered money for his research, if only he would investigate dinosaurs a little bit, was John Hammond. We all remember how that turned out. Nevertheless, reassured that they will only fly above the island, Grant acquiesces to the Kirbys.
I could tell the Kirbys were phony when they ordered Coronas at a Montana honky tonk. Tough people wouldn’t do that. I could also tell because it’s William H. Macy.
No sooner are they above Isla Sorna then they are about to land on it. One of the three mercenary goons the Kirbys hired knocks out Grant as the plane lands. The Kirbys pretty soon come clean about their son being missing on the island for eight weeks and presumed dead. A little later they admit to having no money. Paul runs Kirby Paint and Tile. The Kirbys ain’t rich; they just want their son back.
They’ll do anything to get him: lie, defraud, and scream through megaphones their son’s name on a dinosaur-infested island. The distressed parents do lots of the latter. It’s very dangerous. One of their crew is killed by a dinosaur moments after landing, likely from the yelling. Their plane is attacked and crashes. Soon their second mercenary is eaten, and he was the one with the satellite phone.
Not only are the Kirbys liars, they are stupid. They thought that Dr. Grant had been to Isla Sorna, but Jurassic Park, as everyone knows, was on Isla Nublar, one island over. So they have a guide who doesn’t want to be and has never been there.
The Kirbys are just terrible. They love their kid, and will clearly go to any lengths for him, but that’s where my sympathy ended. They rarely stop yelling, constantly run away, and manage to enter a raptor egg nest without paying attention, all very bad ideas. In one scene, the rescue party finds stocked vending machines in an abandoned facility. Paul, like an idiot, rifles through his pockets looking for change.
Eventually Dr. Grant finds Eric, or, rather, Eric finds Dr. Grant, when Eric throws a smoke grenade into a pack of raptors surrounding Grant. Eric drags Grant to his bunker, an abandoned tanker truck now stocked with supplies that have lasted two months. He’s even got some T-Rex urine.
Grant tells Eric that his parents are there looking for him, and you have to hand it to the kid, he’s more worried than excited to learn this. He’s also quite the critic, telling Grant that he liked his first book more, and that Dr. Malcolm seems “kind of high on himself.”
Eric is the only Kirby with any sense. He doesn’t drive, probably a good thing because his father drives five miles per hour below the speed limit, and his mother has totaled three cars in five years.
However, it’s genuinely sweet when the family reunites. They love each other, and that’s clear from all the hugging they do when they think they are out of danger.
It’s strange that the primary dangerous dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park trilogy are the big guns: T-Rex and Spinosaurus. The movies sweep aside the far more dangerous velociraptors. Strange because we, as humans, should recognize that the smarter creatures are far, far more dangerous than the larger ones, being ourselves smaller but smarter.
And yet, the raptors are often forgotten after menacing the humans. This time the raptors, five in total, are after Billy for stealing two of their eggs.
She approaches the final tube and sees a fully grown raptor looking back at her. On closer inspection, she notices one of the eyes moving slowly. Yeah, that raptor’s alive.
A couple raptors attack, chasing the humans into cages, but they escape. We don’t see the raptors again until near the end, when Dr. Grant fools them, or, rather, they allow Dr. Grant to fool them.
Another prominent species in Jurassic Park III is a flying creature called Pteranodon. This proto-bird lives in a giant aviary (for lack of a better term). The rescue party plus Eric stumbles onto this facility late in the movie.
They take some rickety stairs that descend to a canyon river. Sometimes the threat is to descend very fast, as the stairs collapse from the slightest weight. Remember, everything at Site B has rusted away for years. Also, fog blankets the space. So when Dr. Grant decides to cross a bridge, he loses sight of the rest of the party.
They have to cross one at a time, because of the rust thing. Eric crosses after Grant, but before Amanda reassures him that she’ll be gone from him only a minute, which is funny because he’s survived eight weeks alone on the island. Eric points this out. Eric begins to cross.
About this time Grant realizes that flying dinos rule this roost. And here’s one now, to attack Eric from the fog on the bridge. The Pteranodon grasps Eric and flies toward its nest, where a half dozen cute babies await their meal. They live in not so much a nest as on a rock pillar high above the river.
Eric is dropped in an unwalled prison like Gandalf atop Orthanc in Fellowship of the Ring. Lucky for him, other such platforms exist, and he hops along them like Mario.
Billy sees what’s happening and acts. He’s packed the parachute they discovered the previous day, in case they need it to signal a plane or something. That something presents itself. Billy deploys the chute, not to escape, but to sail toward Eric and rescue him again.
The bird dinos are wise to this and attack the chute after Eric hops aboard. Eric falls off into the river. Meanwhile, the other adults run from a harassing Pteranodon, eventually all crash into the river. Billy, alone again on his chute, flies into a cliff. He drops into the river, is attacked mercilessly, and forgotten.
Once our heroes leave the aviary, they find a boat and get it started for a long, slow float down the river to the coast. They glance alongside a watering hole for the big, friendly herbivores. Seems like everything is going great. They float all day, into the night. Later, they hear the missing satellite phone ringing again, this time in giant, steaming hot turd piles. All three adults dig into the crap until they find the phone.
Back on the boat, their hands washed (but certainly not clean, no way), Paul tells Grant that they have juice for one call. Who would you call if your life depended on it? You’d call Ellie Sattler. That’s just what Grant does. Unfortunately he’s forced to interact with Ellie’s three-year-old idiot child.
An agonizing sequence follows. While Grant tries to interact with the kid, tries to convince him to put his mother on the line, the Spinosaurus is slinking through the river like Jaws. It attacks the boat, sending the humans into the iron cage in the boat’s center as the Spinosaurus does what it does best–eats metal.
The boat slides around and the phone slides around it. These images are spliced with the toddler running around the house looking for mommy. Then he’s distracted by Barney the Purple Dinosaur. God damn Barney, ruining lives yet again. Eventually Ellie gets hold of the phone, but she can’t hear much. The movie ignores her, and for some time we don’t know what she discerned from Grant’s Last Call.
Back on the boat, it’s getting real bad. Gas is leaking, and the iron cage is about to fall into the river. When it does, it hits the river bottom and the humans struggle to escape. The Spinosaurus roars in anger.
Paul is first to escape the cage. He swims downriver toward a crane that slid into the water long ago. He climbs the crane and distracts the Spinosaurus by dangling his tasty, tasty legs. Good move, because Amanda is being torn by the Spinosaurus.
Oh, it’s SO ANGRY. It heads to Paul and toys with it.
The others exit the cage. Grant, ever resourceful, finds a flare gun on the river bottom that fell from the boat. He takes it, surfaces, and aims at the Spinosaurus. The first shot strikes the dino, angering it further, if such a thing is possible. The second shot misses, but is better because it ignites the gas that’s spilled onto the water. Now the Spinosaurus must flee. Paul is OK and there’s more family hugging, a key image in the movie.
Now it’s morning. The family relives old stories. Turns out Paul misses fishing. Ain’t that cute? The quintet walks away and hears…the ocean! But wait. Turns out the ocean was also a raptor trap, because five angry raptors sprint into view to harass the humans.
Grant realizes they are “challenging us,” because they want to find their missing eggs. For some reason they think Amanda has them. Because she’s the lone female? One raptor snouts and barks at her–a standout moment for the raptor robot operating crew.
Grant digs out the two eggs from Billy’s pack, where he also finds the 3D printout of a raptor’s resonating chamber. He tries to become a dinosaur. Grant’s raptor sounds confuse the creatures. We know they are smart and can clearly see he’s the one making the sounds, and yet…they are fooled. Grant calls for help and they run away, but not before taking the eggs.
Now there’s nothing keeping them from the coast, where they discover that Ellie has called in an entire Marine Corps battalion or something plus one guy with a suit and bullhorn. While they are in Costa Rica, Costa Rica is famous for not having a military. These guys must be Americans. Where did they come from? How does Ellie have that kind of pull? These questions are not answered. Instead, try a Navy commercial, the ones with the red push pins all over the globe. One of those push pins came and got them.
Also Billy survived.
When Sam Neill delivers your comedic lines, you have a problem.
It was pretty funny when Billy showed up, out of nowhere, alive.
The characters explore more of the Site B island. In a tense scene they enter a rusted bird cage, also known as an aviary, if you care to refer to these dinosaurs as proto-birds.
Eric survived eight weeks inside a tanker truck on its side. The characters also visit a hatchery, where they find all the eggs have hatched.
Gone are the giant Spielberg sets. More than one scene is obviously green-screened, and that’s too bad. Still, you can’t beat tropical forests, no matter what else is happening onscreen.
“This is how you play God.” Solid line from Grant, served up easily to him. Everything that the series could say about real, live dinosaurs was said in the first two movies.
At least the black guy wasn’t the first person to die.
- Why does every JP movie have a child in danger?
- Shoutout to 3D printing decades before it was popular.
- At least three people died to save Eric.
Summary (20/68): 29%
The third and most forgotten entry in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic Park III is also its briefest. Are these coincidences? I get the sense that the filmmakers thought up some new dinosaurs and needed a script to accompany it. JP3 made less money in its run than Jurassic World made in three days.
Throw some money at Sam Neill and call it a day. It’s telling that Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore didn’t show up and Laura Dern barely showed up for what everyone thought would be the series’s final entry.